Costumed insanity.

That is the best two-word summary I could come up with for a film that has a great deal going on in it. Political tensions, sexual tensions. A horde of rabbits. Two very clever women fighting over the confidence of a third, who in turn possesses the unholy combination of monarchal power and frivolous, childlike uncertainty. All of this culminates in a fascinating, rambunctious and gripping watch that is deserving of the highest praise.

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The Favourite is the work of Greek Director Yorgos Lanthimos, and is written Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, the latter also serving as a producer. Olivia Colman leads the cast as Queen Anne, the frail and mentally-troubled ruler of 18th-century Great Britain. She is aided by Sarah Churchill, played by Rachel Weisz, who is putting pressure on Anne to approve land tax hikes to continue funding the ongoing war with France.

The Duchess of Marlborough enjoys great influence over the Queen, serving as her friend, adviser and even lover. But a spanner is thrown into the works as Sarah’s cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) appears searching for employment in the royal household and a way to restore her lost societal stature. Though first supportive of her, Sarah soon realises that Abigail’s good-hearted nature threatens to drive a wedge between her and the Queen, resulting in a struggle behind closed doors for the power and influence that Anne possesses and symbolises.

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It is a good thing that The Favourite ditches historical accuracy for an exercise in cinematic sensationalism. I cannot confirm that Queen Anne really did engage in the kind of relationships that are on display here, and the film refrains from acknowledging her marriage to Prince George, which combined with her ailments would have had unanswered implications. But aside, the story of how kitchen servant Abigail rose up to butt heads with Sarah, the wife of a respected military man, is very interesting. And it makes for some compelling drama.

This film is brilliant in the execution of both its narrative and production. Yorgos Lamthimos has taken a very ambitious approach to the cinematography and the visuals. He uses wide-angle lenses, blurred takes and slow motion to create an almost drunk-like delirious viewpoint. This can be hit-or-miss at times particularly when it is not focused on characters, but it compliments Queen Anne’s personality and demeanour, showing the audience how she might herself view the world around her. It also plays into the film’s setting.

Remaining in the queen’s court for the most part, it is a world separate to that of outside. Decisions of a national stake have no consequences here. They are free to race ducks along the hallways and throw extravagant parties where they do the most absurd of dances. Court members take time to throw fruit at a naked man who seems to be enjoying his humiliation. The overall production is absurdist in nature, while also establishing a time and place for heavy-handed politics.

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Politics that the script handles very well. Despite no previous credits, Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis’s script is the result of nearly twenty years’ worth of refinement. It is a masterpiece. The dialogue is snappy and witty and does every character justice in establishing their power and influence. But it can also be very downplayed. Scenes are left for everyone to take a breath and admire the spectacle. This is in line with absolute power, that which is on display with Sarah over Anne and Abigail over Sarah, needing not always be spoken to assert itself. It also gives a chance for the production design to be admired. I enjoy a good period piece and the costumes in this are simply stunning.

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Oliva Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are perfect in this movie. Colman especially must be given credit for juggling the ravings and whispers of a very troubled and fragile woman. Within the space of a scene, she can go from making competent military decisions to screaming out a window at a group of musicians on the lawn. You are sympathetic to her. You realize that the influence of her favourites are not detrimental to her wellbeing. Selfish yes, but not uncaring. And she responds accordingly. Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz will castrate you if you don’t respect her. She plays a woman with an agenda that amounts to early modern state capture and it is impressive how calm and collected she is.

She completely comprehends the balance of power and is visibly shaken when all she has worked towards is threatened by her cousin. Emma Stone undergoes a complete transformation during the course of the film, from sweet caring servant to manipulative sociopath in a manner not dissimilar to that of a typical scene with the Queen. All three leads endure extensive development that is led by clear motivation. No matter how far reaching or concern for who gets in the way. Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn bring up the rear guard playing the leaders of parliament, and they too deliver excellent performances.

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This caliber of acting is then presented in a structure that is reminiscent of classical literature. The film is paced out in the form of chapters that each bare a unique title, and the narrative reaches its peak by the film’s midpoint, followed by an understated conclusion. I can see some viewers disappointed with the ending given the buildup, but it remains true to the message that The Favourite seeks to convey: Power is fluid and can come around full circle.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is ambitious, intense, and savage in its humor. It is a period piece unlike any other in both execution and storytelling. It is what it says on the tin. A favourite.

Last Updated: January 30, 2019

The Favourite
High quality cinema. The Favourite is a powerhouse of acting and directing. It revels in its absurdity. It is ambitious and propels a tidal wive of emotions, while telling an engaging and somewhat disturbing story of a pursuit for power.
9.0
/10

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